I had the opportunity to see Chris Hughes in person here at NC State! In case you didn’t know, Hughes is most recognized for co-founding Facebook while at Harvard. In addition to that, Hughes worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, integrating social media for the first time, and bought The New Republic, where he became editor-in-chief in March of this year. All of this amounting to a net worth of $600 million, according to Forbes.
Chris talked about many various topics but focused his lecture on investing in media that is considered “old and outdated” today. For example, The New Republic is a very historic publication. However, it is still able to maintain its readership because it can adapt to the digital changes that come along with social media and other technologies. Hughes also encouraged everyone to invest in these “big idea” journals to get away from the daily headlines and news feeds we see. I found it really intriguing how Chris said that these journals are, truly, the basis of our democracy. He went on to say that these journals keep us informed on a broader range of topics than the regular news does.
He also addressed how many believe Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of digital media are taking over traditional forms of media. He cited a recent Pugh survey which concluded that social media outlets are actually complementing traditional media and older forms of journalism instead of taking them over. However, he said that the actual “newspaper” has seen its better days and more and more news websites (such as Politico and Huffington Post) are flourishing. He said that people tend to be turning toward more direct, shorter forms of journalism. I found it interesting that Chris predicted that the era of “Nightly News” will end in the next decade because of this turn toward more direct journalism and not having to wait until the evening to hear someone read off the news.
He talked about the “Social Network” film and said that it had many exaggerations in it and romanticized what he, Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, and Dustin Moskovitz actually did at Harvard. Despite what many experts say, Chris said that Facebook is more akin to telecommunications than a form of media. In other words, he said that the conversations we had on a daily basis are the same now on Facebook as they were before it.
During the question and answer session, Chris was asked questions on various topics. One in particular regarded privacy and how should we handle it with the digital boom. Chris said that privacy is not disappearing. Instead, the cost of privacy is increasing structurally. In other words, it’s harder and harder for us to keep things to ourselves. However, Hughes said that we need to be smart when it comes to our privacy and don’t do anything stupid. I took it as we have an individual responsibility to protect our own privacy.
Since he was on the Obama campaign, he was asked his opinion on how the president was doing overall. He had a pretty long response to the question but one thing that stuck out was his use of the term “armchair quarterback.” He said it’s easy for everyone to be an “armchair quarterback” and it does seem to help the administration figure out what it is doing right and wrong. Hughes also talked about how technology has enabled grassroots political efforts. He cited the Romney campaign as one of the best at doing this and also by using “digital targeting” to place ads on videos and other media voters use on a daily basis.
Overall, I found the lecture to be really interesting. I learned a lot from Chris and I will definitely take what he said to heart. Chris was right in that we should invest in these “big idea” publications because they keep us informed on a wide range of topics and allow us to cultivate our sense of curiosity and investigation as American citizens.